Airbnb's general manager for the Middle East and Africa, Nicola D’Elia, speaking in Johannesburg. (Gareth van Zyl)
Johannesburg - Tourist hub Cape Town is Africa’s biggest market for internet accommodation service Airbnb with over 5 000 property listings in that city.
Described as the Uber for accommodation, Airbnb challenges the traditional hotel and guest house industry by enabling ordinary property owners to rent out rooms and even entire homes to guests from anywhere in the world.
After launching in 2008, the internet service has listings in over 35 000 cities and 192 countries.
And Airbnb now plans to focus more on South Africa, which has notched up record growth for the company.
Figures released by the company on Monday in Johannesburg indicate that South Africa is Airbnb’s largest African market with 9 400 homes listed and a growth rate of 138% in the last year.
More specifically, former Facebook executive and now general manager for Airbnb in Africa and the Middle East, Nicola D’Elia, told Fin24 that Cape Town is leading other major African cities such as Johannesburg and Nairobi.
"We have nearly 10 000 listings in South Africa. In Cape Town alone there are over 5 000 listings - it's one of the fastest growing markets,” D’Elia told Fin24 on the sidelines of Airbnb’s Johannesburg press event on Monday.
D’Elia further told Fin24 that Airbnb has "nearly 1 000 listings in Johannesburg and then we've got a presence in Durban, Port Elizabeth and other cities”.
Other African markets where interest in Airbnb has piqued include Morocco and Kenya.
"Morocco is an interesting market. Marrakesh has got over 3 000 listings. We have recently been in Nairobi and in Kenya we've got 1 500 listings and Nairobi has 800 listings,” D’Elia told Fin24.
Establishing a presence
Airbnb currently doesn’t employ staff in Africa or have an office on the continent, but D’Elia Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky said this is set to change.
"In terms of specifically what we're going to do, the first thing (to do) is to start building a team in place. So, identify a few markets and South Africa will be one of these where we are going to have a regional market manager that will be our presence on the ground,” D’Elia told Fin24.
"The other aspect of it - which I think is really important - relates to what (the) nature of Airbnb is (regarding) the role of the communities. What we do in other cities is organise meet-ups; have constant relationships with our guests and also try to understand what we could do better.
"This is the way we have been growing in many cities. Community is really the asset of Airbnb,” D’Elia said.
AUDIO: Fin24 technology editor Gareth van Zyl interviews Airbnb's Nicola D'Elia
Tapping tourism growth
Tourism is a major money spinner for South Africa’s economy.
According to Statistics South Africa, tourism’s direct contribution to gross domestic product (GDP) in 2013 was R103.6bn, growing from R93.5bn in 2012.
“The industry’s contribution to total GDP remained stable at 2.9% for both years,” according to a note on the Stats SA website.
“Domestic visitors contributed 57% (R124.7bn) of total tourism spend in 2013, while international visitors contributed 43% (R94.2bn). Total tourism spend in 2013 was R218.9bn, a rise of 9,7% from R199,4 billion in 2012,” according to Stats SA.
Airbnb then is looking to tap both local and international travellers to grow its presence in South Africa.
“If we look at South Africa alone, there are over 10 million (tourists) that every year go to South Africa,” D’Elia told Fin24.
"So, with these numbers in mind, definitely it's a priority for the future of our growth,” he said.